Blessed are Those Who Suffer

“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). This verse has brought me consolation amidst the trials of my life for a long time. At the age of four-and-a-half, I was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer. It was a huge shock to my family. I did not have a normal childhood, to say the least. I am very blessed to have had the support of my family, friends, and doctors to help me through my treatment at such a young age. After going through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and physical therapy I was prognosed to be cancer free. Yet, I still deal with the effects of battling cancer at such a young age. I have some physical limitations, and I still deal with the reality of being robbed of part of my life by a serious illness. Throughout the years, I have revisited the reality of suffering. Below, are some of my reflections. Though I have spent time thinking about this topic, I still struggle with embracing suffering each day. I hope my thoughts can deepen some of your own reflection on the problem of pain.

Suffering, toil, and death, are the price of the fall of man in Genesis. God tells Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you! In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the grass of the field. By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19). Adversity comes in all shapes and sizes. People experience it at all stages in their life. It can be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Often, we feel alone in our suffering because we think that we are the only one experiencing such hurt, that no one understands what we are experiencing, and we do not see a purpose in our suffering.

Thankfully, Christ is a mend for all of those concerns. He comes to carry our crosses with us; He took all of our suffering upon Himself on the cross; and, He gives meaning to our suffering by giving it an eternal purpose it through His passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus’s life is a model for us to “deny [ourselves] and take up [our] cross daily and follow [Him]” (Luke 9:23). Throughout the Gospels, he sacrifices his public image and personal comfort, embracing the more humble and selfless path. Ultimately, it is his submission to this way of life that leads him to fulfill the Father’s will. Through his suffering and death on the cross, He redeemed all aspects of mankind, including our own suffering. Our adversity can participate in His salvific mission and His sacrifice. St. John Paul II advises us that, “Jesus Christ has taken the lead on the way of the cross. He has suffered first. He does not drive us toward suffering but shares it with us, wanting us to have life and to have it in abundance.” We can give our daily sufferings to Him, that they may participate in His cross. Better yet, we can offer them to Our Lady who can perfect our gift, and present them to Jesus more perfectly that we can.

Blessed are they who suffer well. I have been reflecting on this phrase recently. It seems to fit well with the other labels in the Beatitudes: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:3-12). Suffering is to live out the Beatitudes in this world because they are a humble, uncomfortable lifestyle. In our society, suffering has become very taboo. Ironically, we lament the suffering of those less fortunate than us; yet, we flee from it, whenever it comes our way. Nonetheless, there are those who bravely accept the suffering in their life, knowing that it is actually good for them. St Teresa of Ávila tells us, “we always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials.” In the same paradoxical way that true love is the giving of oneself for the good of another, welcoming suffering is the way by which we become detached from our pride and selfishness, and are formed more perfectly into who we were made to be. St. Mother Teresa echos the words of St. Teresa of Ávila when she said, “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.” I often find that when I encounter a homeless person, they seem to be some of the most grateful people that I have met. I believe that their suffering helps them to see the world more clearly because they have fewer comforts and distractions to blur their understanding of who they are.

I have witnessed a similar effect in my own life. As I mentioned, I still deal with some physical limitations from the brain cancer that I survived as a child. For example, some daily tasks are a bit more difficult for me to accomplish than for other people to complete. Often, I deal with bitterness towards and jealousy of others who do not have to deal with the same struggles. But, when I try to be thankful for the many abilities that I do have, instead of focusing on the few crosses that I bear, I am able to find meaning in the midst of my suffering. Similarly, Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, wisely noted, “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Many things do not cause us to suffer of their own power. Rather, we perceive them as such. I am not trying to say that certain things do not cause harm to us. There is a difference between causing actual detriment and causing temporary discomfort. For example, a weapon surely causes harm; but, a short sickness, or a stressful time at work, cause discomfort. When we encounter challenging circumstances in life, we should not run from them just because they are difficult. We should accept them, knowing that Christ redeemed our suffering to lead us and others to heaven. We should not choose to see these challenges as suffering; instead, we should strive for joy in the midst of our trials. It does not come easily; but, with dedication to taking up your crosses daily, you can begin to better see how Christ is using those sufferings as a part of His eternal plan to bring you to heaven.

I would encourage you to take some time to meditate on what crosses you have in your life, how you deal with them now, and how you can unite yourself more with Christ. Then, he may help you bear them; and, he may show you how they are there to help you become more like you were made to be.

The New Evangelization: A Relational Revolution

"To this end, it is more necessary than ever for all the faithful to move from a faith of habit, sustained perhaps by social context alone, to a faith which is conscious and personally lived. The renewal of faith will always be the best way to lead others to the Truth that is Christ," said St. John Paul II, in a message to the bishops of the Americas in 1999. I often struggle with making my faith a personal one. The beauty of Church traditions can easily become rote and mundane when I lose focus on the meaning contained within these rich practices. Praying the rosary often becomes saying repeated words while my mind wanders in a daydream. Or, sitting in mass, I easily become distracted by the people sitting in front of me, or I entertain thoughts about whatever I have going on after mass. These prayers and Sacraments become more just like signs, instead of the actual active bestowals of blessing that they are. In these cases, we miss out on fully appreciating the grace that Christ gives us through these prayers and Sacraments.

The reality is that Christ came to the earth 2000 years ago to encounter his creation personally. He took on flesh and blood to experience his creation, and ultimately, to take on our sinfulness, to bring about our redemption. When we fail to realize this, it is much easier for our faith to become a habit, reduced to a social construct to bring emotional and spiritual pleasantries. But, that is not for what Christ came. God became man to encounter each and every one of us where we are at, and to call us out of our sinfulness, into new life in him. The Christian life is a personal encounter with Christ and a sharing of that encounter with others by joining them in their suffering, and showing them the one whose “yoke is easy,” and “burden light” (Matthew 11:30). So, if our faith is not based on that fact, we cannot truly call ourselves Christian.

And, this call is not just for priests and nuns, but for all who have found Christ and call themselves Christian (literally mean “belonging to, or originating from, Christ”). Lumen Gentium 40 tells us, “thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.” Like the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles, we are all called to go out into the world to share Christ; we are modern day apostles, “messengers” of the Good News. Pope St. Pius X, told a group of cardinals, “ “the most necessary thing of all, at this time, is for every parish to possess a group of laymen who will be at the same time virtuous, enlightened, resolute, and truly apostolic.” It would take much longer to reach the whole world with the Gospel of Christ, if the work of evangelization was just for priests and religious. Christ calls each one of us in a unique way to share the Gospel with those around us, our family, friends, coworkers, and strangers.

The most genuine way to accomplish such a fulfilling feat is to live out an authentic relationship with Christ daily. He came to us to show us who we were truly made to be, and to redeem mankind to our pre-fallen state. By daily being reminded of who we are, we can then help others to realize the same. As St. Catherine of Sienna said, “be who you were made to be, and you will set the world on fire.” By turning to Christ, and mirroring toward others the love he has for us, we will show the world for what we were truly made.

Daily prayer is the soil in which is planted our relationship with Christ, and evangelization is the fruit born from such a lifestyle of daily divine encounter. The late-19th century Trappist priest Jean-Baptiste Chautard, in his book The Soul of the Apostolate, wrote, “only the interior life can sustain us in the hidden, backbreaking labor of planting the seed that seems to go so long without fruit.” Without a daily relationship with Christ, we will not be sustained to sew the seeds of evangelization. It is very difficult in the busy, modern world to form such a habit. But, we must only look to the countless number of saints who have struggled with, and succeeded in, encountering Christ every day in this way.

From daily prayer will grow a spirit of relational evangelization. St. Paul, addressing the Thessalonians said, “with such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). By sharing with others your daily struggles and victories, and sharing in their’s, we can direct people to realize that it is Christ who sustains us through both the consolations and the desolations. Our relationships must not plateau at the superficial level, they must go deeper into helping each other discover the root of who we are. Jean-Baptiste Chautard said, “as long as we have not made the mystery of the Cross sink deeply into the souls of men, we have, as yet, barely touched their surface.” We must be not afraid to cast out into the vulnerable deepness of relationships, to encounter others where they are at and show them that Christ waits, knocking at the door or their soul.

It is baffling to me sometimes to think about how contrary to our true identity our modern culture is. What it professes is the polar opposite of what Christ reveals to us as our true essence - children of God destined for the kingdom of heaven. But, St. Paul writes, “for creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). The world, although blind to the answer, is searching for an solution to the eternal search for meaning. It is our duty, as Christians, to encounter those who are “groaning in labor pains,” and show them the one who alleviates their existential aches unlike anything or anyone else on the earth can (Romans 8:22).

Pope Francis calls us to be revolutionaries against this modern culture. He says, “I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love." He shows how contrary the modern culture is - based on temporality, irresponsibility, and superficial gratification. His words are clearly reminiscent of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s adage: “the world offers you comfort; but, you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Both church leaders remind us that our home is not here. Our revolution is not a temporal one; it is eternal. Jesus tells us, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” and, “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Luke 15:7). We are the laborers, the instruments in his hands, that bring about his work by empathetically and genuinely encountering our brothers and sisters in their chaos, and walking with them, as Christ does with us.
St. Josemaría Escrivá, a 20th-century Spanish priest, and founder of Opus Dei, gave many practical recommendations for the modern apostolate. In his book, The Way, he reflects,

“Those well-timed words, whispered into the ear of your wavering friend; the helpful conversation that you managed to start at the right moment; the ready professional advice that improves his university work; the discreet indiscretion by which you open up unexpected horizons for his zeal. This all forms part of the ‘apostolate of friendship’” (The Way 973).

All these examples of daily virtue are ways in which we can stir within our neighbor a desire to accept the call of Christ to follow him. St Josemaría Escrivá shows how simple evangelization can be; and, how similar it can be to the accounts in the Gospel. He says, “‘the dinner-table apostolate’: it is the old hospitality of the Patriarchs, together with the fraternal warmth of Bethany. When we practise it, we seem to glimpse Jesus there, presiding, as in the house of Lazarus” (The Way 974). This “dinner-table apostolate” can be any form of encountering and getting to know others in the day-to-day, for example at meals. In the same way that Christ encountered his family, friends, and neighbor, so too can we form genuine relationships with those around us. These relationships must not be focused on us, or solely on trying to convert the other, they must be relations of compassion (meaning “to suffer with”), walking with the other, as Christ walks with us.


Prophetic Invitation

There’s something fresh about turning the calendar page over to December. Just like there’s something fresh about the first week of a new Advent. In many ways it’s a blank slate—as we ease into the most celebrated month of the year, December eases in quietly with its pinkish sunrises and orange-purple afternoons. Like the Holy Spirit, Advent moves quietly into our lives, waiting to be known. A whole year has steadily crept by while we attended to the things that required our attention, and we have returned to this familiar place once again.

Like a painter imagining the first strokes on a new canvas, or a child who’s awakened to a fresh blanket of snow. What now?! (And this is the challenge, isn’t it?)To overthink our approach to this fresh and beautiful season, is to skim over the preciousness of its newness, yet to plow forward with no intentionality is to miss the point entirely.

So where’s the in-between? [Here’s the good news.]

Advent as a season IS the in-between. We’re awaiting the already and not yet. Preparing ourselves for the arrival of the Word made flesh. Our willingness to step foot into the newness that is

Honor the space between no longer and not yet. –Nancy Levin

Advent is special precisely because it is that ripe place of no longer and not yet. We become something new in the in-betweeness of this growing place. When we allow our hearts to be melded by expectation, hope and the possibility of the incarnation we cannot help but be changed into something new.

The Prophet Isaiah describes the transformative scene:

All nations shall stream toward it;

many peoples shall come and say:

"Come, let us climb the LORD's mountain,

to the house of the God of Jacob,

That he may instruct us in his ways,

and we may walk in his paths."

For from Zion shall go forth instruction,

and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,

and impose terms on many peoples.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks;

One nation shall not raise the sword against another,

nor shall they train for war again. –Is. 2:3-5

We know from experience that the prophets represent a voice in the wilderness, a lonely voice in the crowd. This continues to be the case. As Christians we feel the tidal wave of Christmas hoopla creeping into this Advent time of preparation, blurring the distinction between our time for readying our hearts and allowing our hearts to embrace the waiting. As Ronald Rolheiser describes:

“Celebration is a paradoxical thing, created by a dynamic interplay between anticipation and fulfillment, longing and inconsummation, the ordinary and the special, work and play. Life and love must be celebrated within a certain fast-feast rhythm. Seasons of play most profitably follow seasons of work, seasons of consummation are heightened by seasons of longing, and seasons of intimacy grow out of seasons of solitude. Presence depends upon absence, intimacy upon solitude, play upon work. Even God rested only after working for six days!”

Culturally we can anticipate a feast, but we have lost the art of sustaining it. If we are to get back to the practice of feasting as a celebration of the arrival of the Christ child, our posture of preparation must look prophetic in a way that stands alone in the cultural Christmas explosion that begins in early November.

Each of us is called to this place of preparation in a way that is distinct. The important part is not what that preparatory posture looks like, only that we find a method to sustain that preparation. Resources for these kinds of preparations abound (and it’s never too late to begin). Little Blue books, Blessed Is She Advent journal, USCCB, Creighton University’s Praying Advent, etc. Find a practice that suits you and allow the work of the season to flourish within prophetic witness.

Revolutionaries of Agape

            Today, the word "love" has become synonymous with "like." For example, we say we love pizza, or we loved the last episode of Stranger Things. Yet, we also say that we love our family, or our significant other. But, surely, we do not feel the same way toward food or images on a TV as we do toward a living human being who we care about and who cares about us.

“Like” comes from the Old English word for “to please, be pleasing, be sufficient.” The meaning of “love” is a bit more ambiguous because its origins are varied. The word itself comes from Old English, meaning, “to feel love for, cherish, show love to; delight in, approve.” The complex part comes when you trace the word “love” back to the Latin “caritatem” and the Greek “agape,” meaning “brotherly love, charity,” or “the love of God for man and man for God.” When the Gospels were translated from Greek to Latin, “caritatem” became the replacement for “agape.” Then, when the Bible was translated into English, “caritatem” was translated to either “charity” or “love.” For the most part, we now limit the definition of “love” to the self-pleasing emotion, and disregard the connotation of charitable affection because the emotional type is more instantly gratifying to us. And, if you know a little psychology, you may understand how when something is pleasing, we tend to form a habit of it. Unfortunately, this limited understanding of love has permeated throughout society.

            The linguistic ambiguity of "love" does not only affect how we speak; it also influences how we understand what love really is. St. Thomas Aquinas described love as, “to will the good of the other." You can also see the true definition of love when Christ says, "no one has greater love [agape] than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" (John 15:13). It is in giving that we truly love. Ironically, by emptying ourselves, we become devoid of our selfish, mundane desires, and are able to be filled with others, their thoughts, desires, and feelings. We were made for this union with others, not for isolated self-seeking.

            However, our society and our language tell us that love is all about me. Love has been reduced to self-pleasure, instead of an encounter with another. Since the sexual revolution in the 50s and 60s, we have seen a regression from chaste, wholesome relationships to a hurting culture that settles for short, improperly-ordered hook ups. We take the pleasures and emotions of a relationship to be the meaning of love. We try to hold on to the euphoric feelings that come with companionship and romance. But, when times are tough in a relationship, we often want to give up and move on. However, St. Paul clearly lays out that,

“love [agape] is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love [agape] never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

His words reveal that love is totally other-centered. He does not define love as being pleasurable. He does not say that love becomes easily-irritated or that it quits. Rather, he characterizes this greatest of all virtues as not seeking its own interests, not being quick-tempered, and never failing. Of course, we are human and struggle with living out this noble ideal. But, it should be our aim; we should not settle for a lesser love. For, Christ tells us, “be [perfected], just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Also, Pope Francis beckons us “to be revolutionaries, . . . to swim against the tide; . . . to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love.” We must be revolutionaries of this true love - revolutionaries of agape.

            A harsh example of how much our society has tainted our perception of love is the anti-life culture. Society has gone so far as to warp our perception of what constitutes an “other,” so that we cannot even identify who we should love. We have turned so much inward toward ourselves, that we have taken defining personhood into our own hands. A person is only valuable as long as they suit our desires, or as long as they do not make us feel uncomfortable. When a new life us “unintentionally” formed, it is acceptable to kill it because otherwise it will mess up the plans we have for our life, or we assume that the baby will not live a valuable life under non-ideal circumstances. If a person on life-support is costing a hospital too much money, it is okay to let them prematurely die, under the euphemistic guise of organ donation, so that the hospital can have an empty bed and so that they can receive compensation for the organs. If someone is struggling with a terminal illness, doctors are encouraged to assist their patient in suicide, instead of entering into their patient’s hurt, and helping them find palliative care and support to deal with their illness. These horrific cultural norms are canaries in a coal mine, revealing the destructive path down which we have moved, straying from true meaning and fulfillment. We have given so much power to our passions that our will and intellect have atrophied. Our desire for pleasure drowns out our ability to stop and ponder the consequences and alternatives of our narcissistic actions.

            Now, I don't mean to be all gloom and doom. Rather, I belabored this topic because it can be so easy to become blinded by the many deceitful societal lies that vie for our attention and distract us from who we were really made to be. But, St. Paul tells us, “do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Thankfully, Christ offers another alternative to our misguided path. He tells us, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). We love ourselves so much that this great commandment highlights how much Christ wants us to love others. He says, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Christ exemplified his own words throughout the Gospels. In his meetings with the sick, the shunned, and the sinful, he entered into their life, their pain; he encountered them where they were, no matter how unpleasant it was, or how much it injured his reputation. He lived this way so fiercely that he became “obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

A majority of us will not have to suffer the unfathomable amount of pain that Christ suffered on the cross. But, we can participate in his suffering, uniting our daily mortifications to his cross. We can seek out others, those nearby us, in our families, at work, at school, and in our community. Those Christ has placed in our lives are images of Him whom we should serve and love charitably. “These least brothers” can be a friend who lost a family member, a coworker dealing with depression, or a sibling who has a debilitating disease. Walking beside them in their time of struggle is being Christ to them. Also, strangers are others who we can serve; think if the parable of the Good Samaritan. Smiling at the people you pass by, thanking the service men and women that you meet, and encountering and talking with the homeless, instead of just passing them by or throwing them some change, are all ways to serve the least among us. If we see the other as they truly are, and not as the stereotype with which society has labeled them, we can move closer to encountering people as Christ does. By focusing our relationships less on our selfish desires and expectations, and more on knowing and experiencing the other, the more we are drawn out of ourselves to live the revolution of agape. When we make our relationships, and our lives, centered more on the other, we become more Christlike; and, we can repeat with John the Baptist, “he must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).


While in graduate school, I worked as a doula for teenage girls at a local pregnancy center. Most, but not all, of these women were first time moms, without a supportive father in the picture—and very often without a supportive family member of any kind. They could come to the agency for parenting classes, health info as well as baby clothes, car seats, etc. My role was to accompany them at the hospital during delivery, to encourage them, and to make sure that they had a voice in their delivery and their stay at the hospital as they welcomed their babies.

This role is by far among the most influential experiences of my adult life, as I was invited into the most intimate and vulnerable moments of a family’s’ early beginning. Culturally-speaking, unless a woman has a sister, there is seldom an opportunity to be invited into this place of welcoming a new child with an expectant mother, as is custom in so much of the world. Comparatively, birth in the U.S. has become an isolated experience—especially for single mothers who are choosing to give life.


I remember the first day I showed up for a meeting with the other doulas at the local pregnancy center. I was excited, nervous and proud to be there after all of my training. The woman at the front desk handed me a clipboard for check in. I grabbed it and began reading through the paperwork.

[Based on the nature of the questions, it was obvious that she thought I was a teen mom.]

Self-conscious about looking young for my role, combined with the indignation of being assumed a pregnant(!), teen, I quickly corrected her and took my “rightful” seat at the table for my meeting.

I have re-visited this encounter often, and with regret.

Of course I could have been mistaken for a teen mom—after all, they were the clients served by this agency. The fact that the receptionist didn’t know me from any other woman at the clinic meant that I was new, not judged. And yet, that was my unfortunate takeaway at the time.

Given a healthy amount of hindsight, I have realized a few things. More than welcoming sweet babies into the world and having a small role in the vulnerable, lonely work of these brave women who choose to deliver their babies in difficult circumstances, I owe these women a debt of gratitude for their genuine (and perhaps even, unintended) education.  Allowing themselves to be accompanied by a stranger as they crossed the threshold of familiarity and childhood into and unknown and frightening world of young adulthood as a single mom showed me just how much I had to learn about radical self-sacrifice, love and trust. Sure I was the birth coach they’d been assigned, but these women were without question, my teachers.


Doesn’t this exchange get to the heart of today’s Gospel reading from Luke? Jesus is instructing the Pharisees to get mixed up in a diverse crowd—the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind—‘those who can never repay you.’ This is the exact message Pope Francis has been echoing since 2014 when he first spoke of a Culture of Encounter.

We must strive and ask for the grace to create a culture of encounter,

of a fruitful encounter,

of an encounter that restores to each person his or her own dignity as a child of God,

 the dignity of the living person.

— Pope Francis

I am slowly learning.


How often do these scenarios Jesus is describing come up for us? You know the ones where we are hosting a dinner party and inviting all kinds of folks we don’t know and might never see again. They’re infrequent. It does remind me of those magnanimous folks who start planning at this time of year, to host the Thanksgiving or Christmas meal for out-of-towners, for college students, foreign exchange students, etc. These are the people with the uncanny knack for gathering folks because it is simply time to gather and we are made for communion with one another.

The daily readings are hinting at the waning of ordinary time, the season of anticipation and preparing to welcome those we might not be expecting. How are you hearing the invitation to see stranger as guest?

Am I seeking a place to gather and be known?

Am I being invited to consider a role as such a host?

What might I be surprised to learn I have in common with those I have separated myself from?

With whom am I already in relationship that is bearing fruits of unexpected grace?

Educational Ecumenism: Learning from our Brothers and Sisters in Christ

“It is my hope that interreligious and ecumenical cooperation will demonstrate that men and women do not have to forsake their identity, whether ethnic or religious, in order to live in harmony with their brothers and sisters,” said Pope Francis at an interreligious meeting in Sri Lanka in 2016. He also professed that, “if we are honest in presenting our convictions, we will be able to see more clearly what we hold in common.” I had the chance to witness such ecumenicism this weekend. My roommate belongs to the Church of Latter Day Saints, or the Mormon church. And I was able to accompany him to his Sunday service. I was interested about what the service would be like and what would be taught in the talks. Remarkably, I gained a lot from the service, as many aspects of the Christian life that we hold in common were presented. It is humbling to be reminded by another faith that you are not always living out yours to the best of your abilities. Having an open mind toward others, while remaining true to your convictions, may surprise you with what you can learn. In particular, I was reminded of the importance of being present and involved in the mass and your parish, knowing the Scriptures, and living out charity daily.

I believe that the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. One of our greatest treasures is that of apostolic succession - the fact that we can trace the lineage of popes all the way back to when Christ tells Peter, “[a]nd so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). Our Church comes directly from the authority of Christ. And, he left us the Eucharist, his true Body and Blood, which he gave to us at the Last Supper. It is the “source and summit of the Christian Life,” from where we receive grace and abundant blessings (Lumen Gentium 11). There are also many other rich traditions that the Church has practiced throughout the centuries. The veneration of the saints, the rosary, and Church doctrine are riches that we pass on through the Tradition of the Church. They are not arcane formalities, but eternal truths.

Still, one aspect of the Mormon service that struck me was that members of the congregation were chosen to give talks during the first part of the service. The topics covered many themes including being children of God, service, and the Christian calling. During another part of the service, members of the congregation led groups of members, their same age, in Sunday school. A guy in his mid-20s led my group in discussing a reading about service.

The Catholic Church has a richness in the tradition of the priesthood, being the leader of the parish and minister of the Sacraments. But, these Mormons giving talks in front of the congregation made me wonder how many Catholics would be willing to give a talk at mass, if that were a part of our liturgy; and, it reminded me of how easy it can be to approach the mass in a passive way, just sitting in the pew without paying attention to the Word being professed.

Catholic involvement in the mass has been declining in recent decades. According to a Public Religion Research Institute survey, only around 40% of US Catholics say that they attend mass weekly. Not attending mass weekly may also correlate with a lack of participation in mass when you do go. That is a big generalization. But, if you do not go to the gym regularly, you will be out of shape when you do - the same with the mass. More astonishingly, a Pew Forum study found that less than 50% of Catholics believe in the True Presence of the Eucharist - the center of the liturgy and our faith. If you do not believe that, upon what is your Catholic faith based? As I mentioned before, it is the source and summit of the Christian life. If Christ is the Son of God, then everything that he said must be true, including, “‘this is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me,’” and “‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you’” (Luke 22:19-20).

A common stereotype of Catholics is that we have ignorance of Scripture. And, as St. Jerome said, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” There is such a depth to the mass and the Sacraments and how they relate to Scripture that it is a wonder why we still do not know Scripture as well as our Christian brothers and sisters. That stereotype should challenge us to dive deeper into the Scriptures, the Eucharist, and the mass. There is often talk about the shortage of priests in the Church. But, with an increase in priests needs to come a rise in devout parishioners. Is it just that there are not enough priests to lead parishes, or that we as Catholics are not doing enough to foster a culture that encourages young men and women to pursue their religious vocation? Surely, more priests are needed to administer the Sacraments. But, holy lay people are also needed to be active in the Church and guide society toward charity in Christ. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “sanctify yourself, and you will sanctify society.”

Another interesting part of the Mormon faith, is their sincere following of the fourth commandment - keep holy the sabbath day. They try their hardest not to do any labor, for school or work, on Sunday, and reserve it for church and family. In that way, Sunday is set apart from the rest of the week as a special day. In college, I had a few Catholic friends who did the same thing. They had such a freedom and joy on Sunday because it was their day of rest. I think it takes a lot of self-restraint and trust to live in such a way. You have to be diligent the rest of the week to accomplish your work, and you have to trust that God will see through whatever you did not get to complete. Then, on Sunday, you can do what truly matters, spend time with God and your family. It truly focuses your week and your life back on Christ.

Mormons also devote themselves to missionary work. Usually, each person goes on a two year mission to serve and share their religion. What an active way to live out their faith. In the Catholic Church there are countless religious orders, charities, and missionary groups that serve the impoverished and share the Gospel. But, often these activities are limited to those called to a religious vocation, or those very involved in their parish. For others, acts of charity are limited to throwing a $20 in the basket during the preparation of the gifts during mass. In that mentality is a strong sense of bystanderism. We think that as long as we show up to mass and do our weekly duty, we have done enough. And, even when we do go to mass, we easily become complacent by not paying attention and not participating. We reduce it to just another thing to check off our weekly list, to make sure we get to heaven, or to please our family. But, Catholicism is not just a requirement for Sundays, it is a lifestyle centered on a person, Jesus Christ. If we call ourselves Catholics, we have to fully accept what Christ and his Church teach, and do our best to live it out on a daily basis.

My previous parish priest, an old yet vivacious man, used to always say that Christ came to “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comforted.” We, often time comforted by a lifestyle of convenience, can do more to give of ourselves daily in a way like St. Mother Teresa said, “doing small things with great love.” Or as Pope Francis said, “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” “Out in the streets” can mean visiting the sick and impoverished in far away places. Or, more easily, you can simply live charitably toward your family, coworkers, and the needy in your community. Acts of charity, large and small, are what will convert our own hearts and society.

The Catholic faith is so rich with teaching and traditions that have been passed down for 2000 years. Unfortunately, there has been a decline in mass attendance and a rise in fallen away Catholics. However, there is a new generation of Catholics who are seeking to understand more about Jesus through the Church and her Tradition. The pendulum is swinging back from a lack of catechesis post-Vatican II toward a revived interest in the beauty of the faith. By realizing what we ourselves are lacking, trying to grow in our faith daily, and “opening wide the doors to Christ,” we will find our salvation and attract others to do the same (St. John Paul II). And by encouraging all of our Christian brothers and sisters to fully encounter Christ, Jesus’s prayer to God the Father will be fulfilled: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:20-21).


Benedictine Vows Part 3: Obedience

In 2008, when I seriously began to discern my vocation with the Benedictines in Washington, DC, I asked some of the monks what they thought was the most difficult aspect of monastic life.  I had been reading the Rule of Benedict where, in chapter 58, I first learned about the vows of conversatio morum and stability, which are different from the better-known vows of poverty and chastity.  What was the most difficult aspect of monastic life?  In a diverse community of men, I received a diverse array of answers, but one in particular stands out most.  One of the men who has been a monk longer than I have been alive answered, “Obedience is hardest.”  I think he’s right.  But what makes obedience so difficult?  

St. Benedict first mentions obedience in the opening line of the Prologue to the Rule: Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience, thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away.  Here we see at the very beginning of the Rule, that obedience is not easy; obedience is toil, it  requires work.  St. Benedict goes further in the next sentence of his Prologue, comparing obedience to wielding a sword or any other type of weapon: “To thee, therefore, my speech is now directed, who, giving up thine own will, takest up the strong and most excellent arms of obedience, to do battle for Christ the Lord, the true King.”  This reference to spiritual battle is redolent of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6, where he writes that we must “put on the full armor of God.”  Although St. Paul does not refer to obedience, he does say that we should use the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)  Is not the sword of the Spirit that is the word of God none other than the very person of Jesus Christ, whom, St. Paul reminds the Philippians, was “obedient unto death - even death on a cross”?  (Philippians 2:18)

So, obedience has an arduous connotation and is synonymous with struggle, effort, hard work, dying to self. It is a weapon in the spiritual battle, and is personified by Jesus Christ who was obedient unto death on a cross.  At first glance, none of these ideas is pleasant, uplifting or edifying.  But let us recall that in the Book of Genesis, Jacob wrestled (struggled) with the angel and here had his name changed to “Israel” that literally means, “he who struggles with God”! (Genesis 32:28)  Struggles in the spiritual life are nothing new and go back at least to the time of ancient Israel.  This side of heaven, men and women will always struggle in matters of faith.  Even if I were to believe everything taught by the Church to be true, I might still wrestle with the fact that others do not believe as I do.  In this case, more likely than not, I will pass judgment on those who do not yet believe, thus falling into the trap of the pharisee who prays “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11)  In this parable of the pharisee and the tax collector, our prayer must be like that of the latter who “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ ”

There is nothing easy about the spiritual life if one takes it seriously, and humility is required.  Jesus chose a cross for a reason, and his instruction to his disciples that they must “deny [themselves] take up their crosses and follow [him]” (Matthew 16:24) did not have much of a reference point when they heard him.  Two thousand years later, however, we can see the full context of Jesus’ instruction.  God does not ask anything of us that He, Himself has not already experienced.

Fighting against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12) is not for the weak or faint of heart.  This is true for all who take their faith seriously.  The spiritual life is not easy, nor is it intended to be.  But, nothing in this world that has any value is free - other than the unmerited gift of faith.  This gift is freely available to everyone, a gift waiting to be received.  For this reason we are obedient when we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. (Matthew 6:10)

Hygge. Of the Heart

I think that we sometimes as Catholics don’t give our trendy culture enough of a fair shake.  I know I have my antennae up when I’m reading a trending article laying out a philosophy for life, and for good reason.  A lot of that stuff is junk, but every once in awhile there is a little pearl that sparkles in the rubbishy pile.  Recently there have been a couple of particularly interesting forces pulling the younger generation- simplicity/minimalism and Hygge.  They both seem to go hand in hand and I think that they (with prudence and moderation in mind) offer 1) a new way to live out the gospel imperative in the modern world, and 2) a new openness to certain elements of the gospel.

Let's start with the concept of Hygge.  Hygge is difficult to translate, but it is a Danish concept that includes comfort, intimacy, and “cozy togetherness.”  The Danish are statistically the happiest people on earth.  They point to this philosophy of life as one of the primary principles in their secret recipe for rampant happiness.  Hygge conjures up images of roaring fireplaces, warm socks, fluffy throw blankets, deep conversations with friends, games of charades, soul food, hot cider, etc. to the Danes.  It dictates what they do on nights and weekends and how they relate to their friends.

While there is a lot to be said about the exterior practice of Hygge, I want to talk about Hygge of the heart- prayer and divine intimacy with the Lord.

I had a vague experiential knowledge of Hygge when I first heard about it, and while Christmas lights, warm cocoa, etc. did come to mind it was my first experience of the interior life that really defined the feeling of contentment Hygge is supposed to be all about.  

In college I had a massive conversion while praying the rosary during commercial breaks on Christmas break.  My guilt caught up to me and I wagered that a few decades might help eke me into purgatory.  When I got back to college and eventually found myself sitting in the Newman center chapel after weeks of contented rosary-praying and guilt-ridden everything else, I felt all at once like I was in over my head and cozily at home.  When I started to pray I felt like I was finally doing what I was meant to do my whole life.  But I had no idea what I was doing, so I started glancing around and seeing what other, holier people do in prayer.  I watched how they postured themselves, I noticed when they closed their eyes and where they looked when they didn't.  I took notes on how to genuflect more holily.  But most of all I tried to take note of what they were reading.  At that time St. Faustina’s diary was making its way through the ranks of devoted Newman-ites, and after a couple of nights of inquiry about her story and who she was, I rush ordered my copy of the diary.  

When I began to pray with St. Faustina I began to experience an interior kind of Hygge.  I imagined myself in her convent, so small yet so immense because of the implications of what she was receiving and how she was praying.  The whole world fit in the walls of her cell, and she had access to the heart of Jesus and a duty to pray for every soul.  The intimate way that she talked with Jesus jumped off the page.  I didn’t know what I was doing, but guessed that a saint was a pretty good model for prayer so I started talking to God informally like she did.  I borrowed a word here and there and wove in my own sentiments.  I felt like I was in a cozy cabin in the woods, hidden away from the world I was trying to reject outside the chapel walls.  It was cozy for lack of a better word.  I felt communion with the person of Christ and weirdly with the other people independently praying in the chapel while I was.  

The transformation was barely noticeable.  I found that when I read the diary that I was reading some of the sentiments resounding in my own soul.  I was wandering the corridors of my own “inner monastery.”  I was actually praying with the Saint and even borrowing some of her zeal as I prayed.  But when I left the chapel the “cozy” feeling started to remain with me.  I found that my room, my workplace, my classrooms, etc. all had that cozy feeling.  I retreated into my heart where God and I were building a meeting place together.  God’s presence was the ultimate Hygge.  Even in the struggles and the dryness and the strife and pain of my rapidly changing life, I kept finding myself drawn to that place and experiencing a mysterious happiness.

I found Hygge of the heart in prayer.  The Danes may have found a great way to achieve a certain level of happiness but the saints have found the real Hygge in prayer.

In the next article I’ll talk more about the external ramifications of this philosophy for Catholics.

Feast of the Guardian Angels

Aside from the guardian angel prayer, my next closest association with this feast is its affiliation with planting bulbs. While working for the Franciscans, one of the biggest parish festivals we celebrated was the last weekend in September. Part of this celebration was a fundraiser that included the selling of bulbs…tulips, gladiolus, daffodils, etc. The idea is intended to be both a seasonally-appropriate way to support the youth programs, and a way to get fall planting on the calendar for Midwestern gardeners. I didn’t come from a family of gardeners, so this fall planting business was new to me, but the association has stuck.

It turns out that these bulbs go into the ground at the end of the growing season, when the soil is about to freeze and be covered by snow. They are buried and all but forgotten. In the springtime, however, they are the first to appear—almost startling green and hardy.  They offer the first splashes of color to a barren landscape, and welcome source of nourishment for pollinators. They are literally life-giving  and the metaphor smacks of the Paschal Mystery.


At the time, I lived in an apartment and thoughts of planting and yards were a bit beyond my lived experience. Maybe you’re in this place too—where you’re ‘adulting’ in different ways that you see demonstrated by parish festivals and involvement. It’s not uncommon for there to be a wealth of opportunities for youth retreats, mom groups, Knights of Columbus breakfasts; blood drives/food drives/diaper drives, rosary-makers, nursery helpers and the occasional young adult outing. (Thanks goodness for the gift of communities like CBC, am I right?!).

If I may, I hope to offer a word of encouragement and invitation for this contingent of the Church, because I think the work and presence of young adults within the worshipping community is not all that different than that of the work of the bulbs—in that it represents the beautiful and welcomed blooming of seeds long-since planted.


As a person who has experienced this interim in church life, no longer a youth--still discerning what comes next, I have dabbled in all kinds of church ministries/classes/events. At worst I felt a little vulnerable, a lone-ranger of sorts because I was trying on roles in the church to see what fit me. At best, I was welcomed and made to feel a valued and contributing presence in the community. This is important discernment work, period. Like all discernment work, it is a growing experience and it is a fabulous way to do some inner-work identifying who it is God is calling you to be in and for the world.

Speaking as a parent of small children, it does my heart good to see this kind of exploration in any parish. Maybe planting is your thing, maybe it is social justice, maybe you offer piano accompaniment, middle of the night adoration shifts, help with youth group, visiting the homebound, serving as a Lector or Eucharistic minister. Whatever it is, it is powerful for me to see young adults in positions of service and leadership among the ranks of seasoned parishioners. It is powerful for my children, too.

Like the bulbs planted on the Feast of Guardian Angels, the fruit of this quiet work you are doing offers a breath of fresh air for the body of believers, and a quintessential bit of the practice of discernment. Thank you for the ways big or small that you contribute your gifts to the whole of the community—we are blessed because of it.


Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom His love entrusts me here, ever this day [night] be at my side to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.


A Cultural Diagnosis with a Christocentric Cure


As a PA student, I am learning how to put together a patient's symptoms and past medical history to create a list of what is called "differential diagnoses," which is used to help form a diagnosis and treatment plan. The symptoms are like pieces to a puzzle that, when put together, reveal the full picture. Learning these techniques has made me look at our world in a similar way.
            One of modern society's symptoms includes avoiding suffering; and, our self-prescribed treatment is egocentrism. Additionally, history reveals man's constant struggle with accepting pain. Looking at these presentations, at the top of my differential diagnosis list is pathophobia, meaning a fear of suffering. And it is understandable. Written in our biology is an aversion toward pain and suffering because it is a threat to our existence. Take a wound for instance. It could lead to bleeding out, or an infection, if left untreated. Our inherent evasion of pain and suffering is a self-preservation instinct.
            However, there is much pain and suffering that is not life-threatening. Yet, we still react to it in the same way as we would react to a fatal wound. There are many things that can cause pain, physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, throughout the day. You may be slighted by your coworker or friend, you may be laughed at, or you may have to skip that meal you have been looking forward to because of your workload. For many people, suffering is not that severe most of the time, as shown by the #firstworldproblems hashtag. People lament their Starbucks order getting messed up or that they are cold because they forgot to bring their jacket to work today, and then post about it, joking or seriously, on social media to attract more attention. These are very superficial struggles that do not deserve to be complained about because there are so many more people who do not even have enough to buy a coffee or a jacket. Sometimes though, you may experience severe suffering - a family member's death, a chronic illness, losing your job, or a natural disaster. These are, unfortunately, unavoidable parts of human existence. We must accept both of these types of suffering, and find meaning in their greater purpose.
            Many virtuous people have told of the inevitability of suffering. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, tells us that, "without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete." How ironic is it that life is contingent upon death and suffering? We cannot fully know that we are alive without knowing what the opposite of life is. It is because of death and suffering that we value life. Another person laden with physical suffering, Helen Keller, wrote, "only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." She, who knew adversity on a daily basis, understood it as a way through which she could grow in virtue. Likewise, the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, saw beauty in suffering. He says, "suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind." This "greatness of mind" is the virtue of being able to step outside of your suffering and see a greater purpose in the hardship.
            Jesus Christ gives profound meaning to our suffering. He tells us, "in the world you will have trouble," admitting that it is inevitable (John 16:33). The encounters in the Gospels are often with people suffering, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Through them, Jesus teaches us that our suffering is not a punishment. He tells his disciples, regarding a man blind from birth, "neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him" (John 9:3). Jesus did not come to the world to acquit our suffering. Rather, he came to show us how to suffer and to redeem our suffering through his Passion - his suffering. He has felt our hurt, and carried it on his shoulders. The second part of John 16:33 continues, "but take courage, for I have conquered the world." Christ relieves our suffering through his compassion, literally meaning to suffer with another.
            It is the acceptance of our burdens and our uniting them with His cross that allows us to grow in virtue. In John 16, under the subtitle "the conditions of discipleship," Jesus tells us,

"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?" (John 16:24-26)

Ironically, by accepting our suffering, it is eased, by Christ. It is a part of our being his disciple. And, it is not that we must begrudgingly accept our cross by ourself, so that we may reach heaven. Rather, if we allow Christ to, he walks beside us on the journey to salvation. He helps give meaning to our suffering in the present moment by accompanying us and reminding us how our suffering is a part of his salvific mission.
            So, this is our treatment plan as a society. We have the opportunity to step outside of our daily suffering and to see a greater purpose in it. It may come as embracing the difficulties of your studies, allowing yourself to grow in discipline and wisdom. Or, it can be sacrificing your dessert as redemptive suffering for a sick friend. With Christ's help, we can offer up our suffering for a greater purpose - for our salvation and the salvation of the whole world. And one day, we will be able to be where "there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain" (Revelation 21:4). If we do not let our suffering control us, but see it as a chance for grace and challenge toward growth, we will continue to increase in virtue each day and attract others toward a similar lifestyle.